Wednesday’s federal appeals court upheld Dylann Roof’s conviction and death sentence in the racist killings of nine Black South Carolina members. The court stated that the legal record could not capture the “full horror” of what Roof did.
The 4th U.S. Court of Appeals unanimously appointed a three-judge panel. Circuit Court of Appeals, Richmond, rejected arguments that the young man of color should have been declared incompetent for trial in the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church, Charleston.
In 2017, Roof became the first person in the U.S. sentenced to death for a federal hate crime. Authorities have said Roof opened fire during the closing prayer of a Bible study at the church, raining down dozens of bullets on those assembled. Roof was 21 years old at the time.
In his appeal, Roof’s attorneys argued that he was wrongly allowed to represent himself during sentencing, a critical phase of his trial. Roof’s attorneys successfully stopped jurors hearing testimony about Roof’s mental health. They claimed that Roof was “under the delusion” and that white-nationalists would rescue him from prison. However, it is a bizarre argument to say that Roof must keep his mental-impairments private.
Roof’s lawyers argued that his death sentence and convictions should be overturned or that his case should go back to court for a proper competency evaluation.
The 4th Circuit ruled that Roof was competently to stand trial. Roof was also found competent by the judge and issued a harsh rebuttal.
“Dylann Roof killed African Americans in their church during their Bible-study, worship. They had received him. They were his victims. He killed them with the intent to terrorize not only his immediate victims at Mother Emanuel Church which is historically significant, but also as many other similar people as possible,” the panel stated in its ruling.
Roof’s crimes cannot be captured by a cold record, or careful reading of precedents and statutes. The judges wrote that Roof’s crimes are sufficient to warrant the harshest punishment that a society of justice can impose.
Margaret Alice-Anne Farrand (deputy federal public defender), was Roof’s attorney. She declined to comment on this ruling. Roof’s other attorneys didn’t immediately respond to email requests for comment.
The Rev. Kylon Middleton was a close friend to Mother Emanuel Pastor Clementa Pinckney who was killed in that massacre. He said Roof’s appeal opened up some of the psychological wounds suffered by the loved ones of victims and survivors. Middleton stated that he was opposed to the death penalty but accepted the sentence Roof received.
Middleton stated that they wanted to see the court’s decision as final and said, “We just want the consequences or the justice that has been delivered based upon the court’s ruling be final, period.”
Nathan Williams, Assistant U.S. attorney, was one of the leading prosecutors in the case. He said that the mass shooting was one the most tragic events in South Carolina history.
Williams stated in a statement that “our office is grateful to the court’s decision, which ensures that, as the Court stated it, that ‘the most severe penalty that a just society could impose’ is indeed imposed.”
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had all but one judge. Circuit Court of Appeals in South Carolina was not present to hear Roof’s appeal. Jay Richardson, one of their own, represented Roof as an assistant U.S. attorney. The panel that heard arguments in May, and issued the ruling Wednesday on Wednesday, was made up of judges from many other appellate circuits.
Following his federal trial, Roof was given nine consecutive life sentences after pleading guilty in 2017 to state murder charges, leaving him to await execution in a federal prison and sparing his victims and their families the burden of a second trial.
However, Attorney General Merrick Galrland issued a moratorium last month and halted federal executions. The Justice Department is currently reviewing its execution policies. After a historic run in capital punishment under the Trump administration that saw 13 executions within six months, the Justice Department is conducting a review of its execution policies and procedures. The execution protocols have also been the subject of a federal lawsuit. This includes the possibility of suffering and pain from pentobarbital (the drug that is used to administer lethal injections).
As a candidate, President Joe Biden stated that he would work to end federal executions. Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, stated in March that he still has “grave concerns.”
Biden is connected to the case. Vice President Biden attended the funeral of state Senator Clementa Pinckney who was also the pastor of the congregation. Biden often mentioned the shooting during his 2020 presidential campaign. He said that Mother Emanuel helped him heal from the grief after the death of Beau.
Roof’s lawyers could request that the entire 4th Circuit reconsider the panel’s decision. Roof could file what is known as a 2255 appeal – a request for the trial court to review the constitutionality and validity of his sentence and conviction – if he fails in his direct appeal. Roof could also petition the U.S. Supreme Court to seek a presidential pardon.